January 7, 2024
Revised Common Lectionary
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13 (see 11)
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
The following reflection is based on the Revised Common Lectionary texts for the Baptism of the Lord, Year B. Roman Catholics and some other Christians in the U.S. and Canada observe this Sunday as the Epiphany of the Lord. A reflection on that feast and its Scripture readings may be found here.
Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus is remarkably brief—just three short verses (Mk 1:9-11)—yet packed with important details. The key points of the story provide insight not only into the identity of Jesus but also into our own relationship with God.
Jesus willingly chose to accept John’s “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4), even though he was the sinless One and had no need of it. Arriving from his hometown, Nazareth, Jesus immediately mixed in with the crowd of people who had flocked from both city and country to be baptized by John and confess their sins. He chose from the very beginning of his public life to identify with weak, wounded, and sinful humanity.
Mark goes on to recount that as Jesus came out of the water, “he saw the heavens torn apart” (Mk 1:10). The Gospel writer describes an event of cosmic significance, as the boundary between heaven and earth, between God and humanity, was pushed aside. Jesus saw “the Spirit descending like a dove on him,” empowering him for the mission he was about to undertake. He also heard a voice from heaven declaring, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11). In Mark’s version of the story, neither the crowds nor even John the Baptist were witnesses to this remarkable event. It was Jesus alone who saw the heavens opened, beheld the descent of the Spirit, and heard the voice that named him as the beloved Son of God.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus would teach his disciples that, at the deepest level, his identity as God’s beloved Child meant obediently giving himself up to suffering and death for the sake of others. As Mark tells the story, Jesus was constantly warning those who recognized him as Son of God not to tell, lest someone regard his relationship with the Holy One as based on power, position, or prestige.
Fulfilling his call to be the Son of God meant living—and dying—as a person for others. The first public announcement that Jesus was the Son of God would take place as he died on the cross. That declaration was made not by a disciple nor by a religious leader but by a Roman military officer. “Now when the centurion who stood facing him saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this was God’s Son!” (Mk 15:39)
The brief account of Jesus’s baptism that we hear today offers us an opportunity to reflect on our own baptism. When Jesus entered the Jordan, he cast his lot with all of us who experience brokenness and sin. In the water, we too are named children of God and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit that empowers us to carry on the mission of Jesus in the world. Like the One who was baptized by John in the Jordan, we are claimed as beloved of God and sent to give our lives in service as persons for others.
A Hymn for Today: “Crashing waters at creation”
The late Canadian hymnwriter Sylvia Dunstan, FHS, wrote this text that places the baptism of Jesus in the larger context of God’s work of creation and salvation (stanzas 1 and 2) and God’s continuing gift of “living water, never ending.” Listen here.
Crashing water at creation,
ordered by the Spirit’s breath,
first to witness day’s beginning
from the brightness of night’s death.
Parting water stood and trembled
as the captives passed on through,
washing off the chains of bondage—
channel to a life made new.
Cleansing water once at Jordan
closed around the one foretold,
opened to reveal the glory
ever new and ever old.
Living water, never ending,
quench the thirst and flood the soul.
Wellspring, Source of life eternal,
drench our dryness, make us whole.
Text: Sylvia Dunstan, 1955-1993. © 1994, GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.
Tunes: CRASHING WATER, STUTTGART, RESTORATION
Image Credit: Bayou Baptism, Lauren Wright Pittman, 2016
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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